First, you bring the perps into the… wait. No. Baseball lineups. Ok.
As has been discussed on numerous game previews and game threads on this very site, we all know that lineup construction doesn’t matter that much. Depending on the person giving the estimate, the difference between the optimal lineup and the worst possible lineup is probably on the magnitude of 2.5 wins per season. Given that even the most clueless of managers won’t bat Joey Votto in the 9-hole, a theoretical “worst possible lineup” is never created. The true effect of lineup optimization over an average “old-school” type lineup is on the magnitude of 1 win per season. Certainly not a huge deal, but why leave a win on the table? Lineup construction is low-hanging fruit. Pick it!
The guts of what I’ll present were discussed in great detail in The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball, the seminal sabermetrics tome from Tango, Lichtman, and Dolphin. They use the idea of “RE24” for optimal lineup construction. RE24 stands for “Run Expectancy for the 24 base-out States.” For example, “bases empty, 1 out” is one of the 24 base-out states; “bases loaded, 2 outs” is one of the 24 base-out states. When transitioning from one base-out state to another base-out state via a trigger (a walk, perhaps), the run expectancy of the remainder of the inning is either increased or decreased. Good events increase run expectancy and bad events (outs) decrease run expectancy. Given that certain spots in the lineup tend to come up in different situations more often, using the run expectancy changes of RE24 and the expected plate appearances of each slot, you can profile the types of guys that should bat in each slot.
From The Book;
“Your three best hitters should bat somewhere in the #1, #2, and #4 slots. Your fourth- and fifth-best hitters should occupy the #3 and #5 slots. The #1 and #2 slots will have players with more walks than those in the #4 and #5 slots. From slot #6 through #9, put the players in descending order of quality.”
So, there we have it. Seems simple, right? The main departure from the RE24 method and traditional lineup construction is the role of the #3 hitter. Old-school types will say the #3 hitter should be the best hitter in the lineup. Makes some sense, given the idea that in the 1st inning, the #3 hitter has the role of last-resort; getting on base to extend the inning for the cleanup hitter.
However, under the guise of RE24, the #3 hitter has the highest percentage of plate appearances in the “bases empty, two outs” base-out state. This is the state where positive actions, like a walk or a hit, have the least relative positive effect. So, batting your best hitter 3rd actually lessens his overall effectiveness.
With that in mind, who are the Reds three best hitters likely to break camp with the team? That’s a tough question past the best hitter. Any of Devin Mesoraco, Eugenio Suarez, Brandon Phillips, or Jay Bruce could be considered for 2nd and 3rd best hitters. Perhaps even Adam Duvall or Scott Schebler creeps into the discussion if we’re talking and LHP/RHP platoon splits. Because of this reality, it’s pretty hard to make a totally bad lineup. That is, unless you bat one of the worst Reds hitters in the #1 slot…
“[Billy Hamilton] is going to get every shot to be the leadoff guy.” – Bryan Price
Hmm. Well, given the reality of the Reds situation, let’s construct a few lineups, keeping in mind that they SHOULD change based on the handedness of the opposing starting pitcher:
Jeter’s View of Optimal Lineup against Righties
Jeter’s View of Optimal Lineup against Lefties
Votto is so much better than every other hitter, the only real answer is to give him the most possible plate appearances in the season. Also, according to RE24, the time that a walk is at its highest relative value is when the bases are empty and there are no outs. Like in the 1st inning. In that situation, a walk is literally as good as a base hit. In that situation, Votto is essentially a .400 hitter.
Hamilton 9th makes sense for a few reasons. First, from things I’ve read over the years, the benefit of having a real hitter batting 9th in front of your best hitters at the top of the lineup outweighs giving more PAs to the pitcher in the 8th slot, or being forced to go to a pinch hitter earlier. Second, Hamilton’s skills are vastly diminished batting in front of a pitcher. If Hamilton ever reaches with 2 outs, he’s very unlikely to be driven in, even if he steals 2nd and 3rd base. Having Billy on base with a real hitter at the dish needs to be the Reds new “market inefficiency.”
Since we all know Votto will never leadoff, here’s where we are with Hamilton leading off:
Without Hamilton at the bottom, having the pitcher hit 9th is likely better, since Cozart has a little pop.
Tuesday’s spring training game (!) featured Votto batting 3rd and BP batting 4th. As we discussed at the onset, this isn’t a huge deal. However, doing something like that might turn the Reds into a 64-win team instead of a 65-win team. Don’t give up that win, Bryan!